Your smartphone selfies look horrible. It’s true and you know it. It’s not your fault, it’s your smartphone’s.
Almost all smartphones have a low-res front-facing camera with 1 to 2-megapixels. It’s laughable how little they’ve improved compared to how great the cameras on the backside have gotten.
The HTC Desire Eye sees your phone’s grainy selfies and raises you its 13-megapixel selfies. HTC says it’s time for high-quality phone selfies that don’t compromise on resolution.
Despite the mid-tier Desire branding and $149.99 (with two-year contract) price, the Desire Eye actually packs impressive hardware including a sharp 5.2-inch (1,920 x 1,080 resolution) display, a 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of internal storage which can be expanded up to 128GB with a microSD card.
Unlike on other phones, Android 4.4.4 “KitKat” with HTC’s own Sense 6 UI and the BlinkFeed news aggregator are lightweight and easy on the eyes. I didn’t find HTC’s own software customizations to bog Android down, which is great.
The powerful hardware and smooth software works out to a phone that roars all the time; it even runs 3D games like Dead Trigger 2 really well.
Plastic phone done right
Plastic smartphones get a lot bad rap these days. We all want a device with the premium and luxury feels; something that screams look at my fabulous phone.
The Desire Eye is neither flimsy or creaky. Its white and red two-tone design is eye-catching among black and silver devices. Because HTC used an injection-molded “zero gap” design, there are no cracks or seams where the two colored plastics meet.
The completely sealed-off design also serves another purpose: The Desire Eye is IPX7 dustproof and water-resistant, which is handy for when you want to use it by the pool, in the bathtub or absolutely have to text in the rain.
Beautiful as the Desire Eye is, it isn’t perfect. It’s taller and thicker than most phones in its class because of the big honking camera and LED flash on the top, and the front-facing BoomSound stereo speakers cleverly disguised in the display’s bezel. (I bet you didn’t even see the speakers, did you?) The larger dimensions make the Desire Eye tougher to grip firmly and use with one hand. The side buttons — power, volume, and camera shutter — are also mushier and require extra force to register presses.
Sharper selfies, but only barely
The Desire Eye’s main selling point isn’t its slick design or good performance, but its twin 13-megapixel cameras.
HTC says the days of having to pick between your phone’s high-res back camera and low-res front-camera for selfies are over. Both cameras give you the same high-resolution photos and same dual-LED flash.
Neither camera is an “UltraPixel” camera — the kind you can find on HTC’s flagship One (M8) — so low-light performance is on the crappier side (more on that later). Outdoors, both cameras perform about the same with face detection and autofocus working swiftly.
I noticed colors came out undersaturated (i.e. reds looked more like pinks) and faces tended to be warmer toned. This isn’t something that plagues only the Desire Eye; tons of Android smartphone cameras suffer from either undersaturated or oversaturated color syndrome.
Selfies taken outdoors are definitely sharper with the Desire Eye. Details like the pores on my face and the bricks on a building in the background that would normally be a blurry mess when enlarged are clearer, but not by much. Pictures still have a lot of image noise when zoomed in.
The extra bump up in clarity is greatly welcome and even more apparent when you look at selfies on a computer monitor, but the big question is: Does anyone really care?
As much as I want to say we do, we probably don’t. Most people look at selfies on their phone on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. And most of the time, selfies are cropped and filtered to the point where resolution doesn’t even matter.
I like my digital photos to be crisp, but believe me when I tell you that nobody really wants to share selfies where every wrinkle is visible in high resolution. I know I was super hesitant to.
Getting prettied up is easy
The Desire Eye’s “Eye Experience” camera software is kind of like those Japanese photo booths that let you distort your face to look more like kawaii anime characters.
You can tweak the usual white balance, exposure, and live filter modes, but there’s also a “Live Makeup” slider, which lets you increase and decrease the amount of skin smoothing you want applied to your face. It’s an amusing feature and, yep, your face will look airbrushed, but at least those unsightly beauty marks and pimples won’t be visible.
More entertaining are the face effects that can be applied to selfies post-shot. Think Photoshop for beginners, only everything is adjusted with a simple slider. Did your face come out looking a little fat because of the angle? That’s fixable with some quick editing.
You can use the “Face Contour” slider to slim your face (and keep slimming it over and over until you’re happy), make your eyes bigger with the “Eye Enhancer,” or even remove shiny reflections from your cheeks and forehead.
All those edits and some funkier ones like splicing your face with someone else’s and brightening your complexion can be done within seconds. The key, however, is to use them in moderation. You don’t want to go overboard until you actually look cartoonish. (Unless that is what you want, then by all means go crazy.)
Yucky low-light selfies
Even with the Desire Eye’s 13-megapixel front camera and its accompanying dual-LED flash, low-light selfies are hilariously bad. Take a look for yourself:
As you can see, the Desire Eye’s low-light selfies actually look worse than the selfies taken with my iPhone 6, which has a 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera.
But what about using that dual-LED flash you got up there? Won’t that help? Kind of. In my testing, I got mixed results when firing off the flash. Like using the back camera’s flash, your face will sometimes look unnaturally washed out or the autofocus will plain miss resulting in a blurred pic.
The other option — turning on the flash like a torch light to illuminate your face — is a little better, but autofocusing issues can still screw it up. Me? I’m not a fan of using the flash — ever.
The selfie phone trend is only beginning
As a phone, the Desire Eye surprised me. It’s well made, as fast as HTC’s flagship One (M8), and has a wonderfully sharp 1080p display.
The BoomSound stereo speakers make it one of the better phones out there for watching videos and playing games and the water resistance is lovely.
As far as selfies go, the Desire Eye’s are sharper, but not by much. And they’re only a step up above other phone selfies when they’re taken outdoors and in good lighting. Selfies taken in low-light places like restaurants are as gross (if not worse) than phones with low-res front-cameras.
The thing about selfies is that they’re short-lived. You take a selfie and then take another one later and another one after that. They’re a dime a dozen and when they’re mainly viewed on your phone and on apps like Instagram and Twitter, you’re not really worried about resolution. It’s not like anyone prints out selfies and treasures them forever. There’s no time for that, because we’ve gotta move on to the next great selfie.
The Desire Eye’s 13-megapixel front camera needed to smoke all other phone selfies — all the time, in all conditions — to impress. It doesn’t. The face effects are cool and all, but they’re also available on other HTC Android smartphones through a camera software update.
Unless you’re really losing sleep over low-res selfies (or maybe you do print them), your current phone selfies are probably good enough for now.
HTC Desire Eye
Sharper, high-res selfies in good lighting • Lovely unibody-feeling plastic design • Great performance
Awful low-light selfies • Front-facing flash doesn’t help much with photos • Mushy side buttons
The Bottom Line
The HTC Desire Eye is made for a very specific type of person: the selfie addict. If all you do is take selfies with your phone and care about the extra resolution or the face-augmenting effects, this phone will bring you fun times.